KVFR Fire station

Gear hangs, ready for action, at the Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue station in downtown Ellensburg. (Brian Myrick / Daily Record)

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Spilled diesel fuel contaminates the proposed site where Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue would like to build a new fire station, but that’s what made the site such a deal, according to KVFR Chief John Sinclair.

When KVFR bought the land, the former site of the Mackner hay scales, it was able to negotiate with the Mackner family to sell it minus the estimated cost for cleanup, $505,000 down from $919,000.

“They didn’t have money to get it cleaned up, and so we took the cleanup costs off the purchase price in order for us to be able to have that make sense,” Sinclair said. “As a public agency, we have access to certain cleanup funds that private individuals don’t have.”

KVFR, officially Kittitas County Fire District 2, wants to build a new headquarters station at the site so it can move out of the city-owned police and fire building on Pearl Street. Ballots for the 20-year, $6.7 million construction bond have been showing up in district voters’ mailboxes all month. The election concludes April 22.

Such deals are common, said Richard Cole, a local attorney who works in real estate law as part of his practice.

A landowner isn’t necessarily obliged to clean up his contaminated land, he said. Agreeing or not agreeing to do environmental cleanup — whether it’s worth it for sellers to do it themselves or negotiate to pass that cost on — is all part of process.

“That’s why certain land in certain places never sells,” he said.

Picking a location

When the district was planning for a new station several years ago, it looked around Ellensburg for sites in a good location and with access to thoroughfares into other parts of the county, Sinclair said.

Planners also wanted a site that would match the district’s long-term plan for a “hub and spoke” model with a larger, city firefighting-oriented headquarters station at the center and the Vantage Highway station and the smaller volunteer substations at the outskirts for response to elsewhere in the district and back into town, he said.

KVFR received a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Ecology to do an initial assessment of the contamination at the site, which came from a fuel spill years ago.

After cutting a deal with the Mackners and looking at cleanup costs, Sinclair said the location looked like the best deal, so the district bought it.

“When we looked at the Mackner site, and we did some studies of our call volume, it actually fell into place,” he said. “We looked at other property purchases, but none met all of the criteria like the Mountain View site did.”

The district is pursuing other grants from Ecology and the EPA, but will dip into its own funds if needed, Sinclair said. The bond is written so none of the money raised through the bond can go to cleanup costs.

Sinclair said Ecology’s estimate said clearing the site would cost roughly $300,000 to $600,000.

Ecology told the district the site would be a prime candidate for a cleanup process called bioremediation. Tiny bugs are injected into the soil — on site — and they metabolize and neutralize the hydrocarbons. When they’re done, another substance is put into the soil to kill the bugs, leaving the site clean.

“In the scheme of things, there’s no exotic chemicals in there,” he said. “It’s going to be a fairly straightforward cleanup process.”

The fire station bond would add 20 cents per $1,000 assessed value to property tax bills in the district. For someone who owns a $200,000 home, that would mean an extra $40 per year, about $3.34 per month, over the life of the bond.


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